Idol launches its sixth season in the Midwest, Seattle sequel tonight



paul sakuma/associated press


American Idol judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson return for the show’s new season.


The sixth season of American Idol began with a familiar musical cue: A classic Who song that’s also the theme music for CSI:NY. Baba O’Riley — better known as Teenage Wasteland in the basement rec rooms where I grew up — is a strange choice for a show that chose a man who looked like a career substitute teacher as last season’s Idol.

The night kicked off in Minneapolis, where we were treated to the ritual humiliation of a corn-fed blond in front of her idol, guest judge Jewel, who was treated to what would have been a cruel parody of herself if it weren’t so sincere. The poor girl cried and pleaded, while her personal Idol looked like she wished she could be anywhere else just at that moment, up to and including a slave galley being consumed by fire.

Even my wife was moved to tears by the poor girl, as she collapsed into her mother’s arms outside the audition room, disconsolate and wrecked. I am made of sterner stuff, however, and distracted myself by imagining the torment I could potentially visit on the editors who’ve sentenced me to three months of the musical equivalent of irritable bowel syndrome.

“I don’t know what I’m doing on this show anymore,” complained Simon Cowell, confronted with a man singing opera while dressed as Apollo Creed from Rocky. It’s a prelude to the show’s first hit at bat — a 16-year-old named Denise Jackson, born a crack baby to a junkie mom, who belts out And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls. The cynic in me suspects that, talent aside, her story is too good to think she won’t be around in a month, when Idol begins in earnest.

The highlights from the next 90 minutes remind us that we’re in the Midwest — one gold ticket winner is a sailor on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, another is an army reservist whose husband is in Iraq. The balance are mostly monsters of self-esteem, with the best saved for the last 15 minutes — a 16-year-old juggler who dissolves in a rage when he’s rejected.

The self-delusion climaxes with a montage of contestants singing Prince’s Kiss, before a teaser for tonight's episode, in a Seattle apparently overrun with mutants.